105°F
weather icon Clear

Horse racing starts to find its stride with 3 more tracks opening

Updated May 8, 2020 - 7:46 am

Like a newborn foal struggling to stand, horse racing is starting to find its feet after nearly being shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three racetracks — Churchill Downs, Charles Town and Golden Gate Fields — are expected to begin running within the next week, all without fans in the stands and with strict health and safety protocols in place to protect track workers.

There is still no word on when Santa Anita Park will be allowed to reopen, and racing at the New York Racing Association racetracks remains in limbo.

That will work to the benefit of Churchill Downs, which belatedly will open its spring-summer meet May 16, a week from Saturday. Even though the pandemic has forced it to cut purses from a record $771,000 a day in the fall to $559,000 a day, top riders and trainers are descending on the Twin Spires en masse.

The Blood Horse reported Thursday that among the jockeys planning on at riding in Louisville are John Velazquez, Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario and Jose Ortiz. And among the trainers sending strings will be Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Tom Proctor in addition to Southern California regulars like John Sadler, Richard Baltas, Phil D’Amato, and Jerry Hollendorfer.

Bottom line: Expect full, competitive fields for at least the early part of the Churchill Downs meet.

Meanwhile, Golden Gate Fields in the San Francisco Bay Area and Charles Town in West Virginia have been given permission to resume fanless racing on Thursday, assuming the last few required authorizations fall into place.

Add to the menu Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs, both of which carried the load when other tracks were being closed by coronavirus fears — along with some smaller tracks like Remington Downs in Oklahoma — and racing fans soon will have something resembling a normal number of tracks to watch.

Notice I didn’t say bet.

Alas, while South Point and Circa casinos this week revived their sports betting apps this week, neither will be offering betting on horse racing.

The explanation I got in the case of South Point is that betting on horse racing via app is a more labor intensive process, so it will not be offered until the casino physically reopens, whenever that is.

Just to rub salt in the wound, Churchill Downs would have been off limits to Nevada players anyway because the long-running dispute between the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association and the racetrack has not been resolved.

Unless you’ve set up an offshore account, which I do not publicly condone, you’ll have to be satisfied watching more good racing from more tracks until we get to whatever phase of the governor’s reopening plan that will include the state’s casinos.

#RJhorseracing featured races

The #RJhorseracing handicappers are down in sunny Florida this weekend, tackling a couple tough turf races: the $75,000 Sunshine Forever Stakes and a tricky allowance/optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park.

In the former, a 1 1/16th mile contest for 4-year-olds and up, the crowd ‘cappers are pretty sure a Todd Pletcher-trained horse is going to win, they just can’t decide which one.

As of press time, they were making Halladay (4-1) the narrowest choice over his stablemate Social Paranoia (3-1), with 5-2 morning line favorite Admission Office getting the nod for the show. And they are turning up their noses at last year’s Preakness Stakes winner War of Will (10-1), who returns off a six-month and returns to the turf where he started his career.

There really isn’t a ton of speed in the field, so I too am giving the edge to Halladay. I’ll use El Tormenta (12-1) in the second slot to add some pop in the exotics and Admission Office to show.

In the 10th race, a mile race for 4-year-olds and up who have either non-winners of $10,000 or in for a $25,000 claiming tag, the crew is highly enamored of Battle of Blenheim, the 2-1 morning line favorite. They have Extra Extra (20-1) eking out the place over Gray’s Fable (5-1).

I’m parting company with my peeps for this and taking Shootin the Breeze (8-1), who has the right closing style to win this speed-laden affair and picks up the services of the afore-mentioned Joel Rosario. I’ll use Gray’s Fable to place and Battle of Blenheim to show.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Sports Betting Spotlight Videos
THE LATEST